Archive for March 31, 2012

West Bengal: Women Say Not On Our Bodies Anymore

Maitree March 1

In West Bengal, violence against women has been trivialised into being ammunition for the power conflict between political parties

Sayantoni Datta

West Bengal has been irking for change. That is why Trinamool Congress’s (TMC) election buzzword, ‘Poriborton’ or ‘change’ humoured the masses of Bengal, who voted for it. While many of us now sit to discuss what we really mean by ‘change’, at that time it probably meant bringing in a new force that would enrich democratic politics in West Bengal, bring in new agendas and improvement of governance systems, create a formidable oppositional politics in the State and West Bengal’s first woman Chief Minister, Mamata Banerjee.

Monobina Gupta writes “The 2011 polls may be billed as the great unraveling of West Bengal, its politics and culture – but also, I think, of gender relations. Banerjee is on the verge of acquiring a unique status, becoming the first woman head of a state well known for its misogynist culture, notwithstanding many claims to the contrary.”

It is also interesting to note here that Gupta, while situating Mamata’s predicament amidst ‘Bengal’s thriving culture of male chauvinism’, clearly articulates that in spite of the various ways in which this leader has managed to shake a few myths and stereotypes which continue to exist in this Land of Renaissance, she does not have the adequate feminist analytical tools to deal with her predicament. It is this sheer lack of an adequate feminist ideology that could partially explain her almost awkward and misinformed responses to the several incidents of violence against women that have recently been highlighted by the media in the State.

Now coming back to the rallying point ‘change’, I think what most people in Bengal were waiting for was a break in the ‘vicious cycle of violence’ that the political culture seems to have continuously promoted all these years. The question is not about ‘track records’ and who had a worse history of violence against women during their years of governance in comparison to whom. The question is whether we can break out of it.

Maitree, an autonomous women’s network in West Bengal, observed a somber Women’s Day this year in the context of the rising cases of rape against women in West Bengal. Maitree also organised a protest rally this month calling attention of the political actors to the fact that ‘Our bodies are not battlefields or spaces to show prowess’.

Maitree Morcha Feminists India

Protest rally organised by Maitree in Kolkata. Photos by Maitree

According to data collected by the National Crime Records Bureau, West Bengal has continuously recorded the 2nd highest incidents of rape in India, for the last seven years (2004-2010).  Between, 2006-2010, the incidents of rape across the country increased by 15 per cent but increased by 34 per cent, in West Bengal.

In the media, in February alone, at least nine cases of rape have been reported. Amongst the reported cases were — a woman who was trying to return home from a night club in Park Street, raped inside a car; a woman in Baranagar, who had gone out in the early morning to pick papers; a woman in Katwa who had gone to a businessman to take orders for sewing clothes, a young girl in Falta who had gone missing on her way to a private tutor, and was gang-raped; a deaf and mute girl admitted to a hospital in Bankura and raped by a doctor pretending to examine her; a woman in Egra raped while she was closing up her shop at nine in the evening and returning home; an Adivasi woman employed as the helper of a mason in Siuri was gang- raped while returning home; the wife of a carpenter was invited by an official of the Forest Department on the pretext that he would give low cost wood for her husband and raped near the forest in Chanchol, Malda.

The rape victim of Baranagar died of internal bleeding because of the callousness of the police and the administration. In the Falta gang rape case, the police initially refused to record the victim’s complaint but the Calcutta High Court Orders forced the Falta police station to investigate the allegation. The police inaction emboldened the accused, who kept threatening the victim’s father to withdraw the case. The father was forced to stay in the hospital premises fearing an attempt on his life. The accused also ransacked the victim’s house.

Scanning the media reportage on this issue not only highlights a tragic ‘comedy of errors’ on the part of the ruling government in ensuring speedy access to justice for the victims but more seriously, also shows a hyper-charged reactionary political response clearly indicating a subterranean political and violent conflict that has been brewing between the Left Front and the TMC ever since it has come to power.

Mamata has resorted to denial, escapism, emotional reactions and taken careless moral positions on the incidents reported in the media. Her administration has not helped her out either. The attitudes of police officers, at local police stations, who are dealing with these cases, are alarming. Even though there is the presence of a women and children’s protection cell in the headquarters in Lal Bazar and the Deputy Commissioner of police, herself a woman cop, has shown an outstanding commitment to duty specifically in the Park street case, the story of other officers is not the same. From making sarcastic or snide remarks, to acting late on the cases, to not having women officers deal with the cases, the local police stations show an ineptness, ignorance and a total blindness to dealing with issues of rape sensitively which may even amount to criminal negligence on their part.

The abysmal record of increasing violence and state apathy calls for better ministerial intelligence and political astuteness in dealing with violence against women in the State. The only glimmer of hope lies in the fact that more and more women are reporting cases of rape in the State, and some of the victims have taken on brave and courageous battles in spite of this hostile political milieu.

Sayantoni Datta is an independent researcher working on human rights, women’s rights and environment justice issues.

 

Why all Men Should be Feminists

Feminists men- feminists India

In a world of individual and collective practices and structures that militate against women, it is time men rebel against misogyny and become feminists

By David Moscrop

I became a feminist gradually and reluctantly. Some feminists convert instantly. Like Saul on the road to Damascus, the scales of misogyny fall suddenly from their eyes, and they see the light. For me, it was different. I entered my undergraduate degree as a casual misogynist. Or, more accurately, I was a philosophical liberal: I believed women and men were deeply and necessarily different, but legally equal. I thought that men should be men, women should be women, and that if the fairer sex wanted to improve their lot in life, they could pull themselves up by their bra straps.

By the time my undergraduate years were up, things had changed. Encounters with strong women and enlightened male feminists eroded my sedimented opinions about gender relations. The pillars of truth that held up my liberal world view became less and less sturdy. Time spent with women who had experienced very real, very gendered struggles cast my own family history into sharp relief; this was a history littered with experiences that should have made me sympathetic to the feminist movement long before I embraced it. In those years my encounters turned on a critical faculty that, once activated, can only be turned off by authoritarian-grade re-education or brain trauma.

I had become a feminist.

My education as a feminist had, first and foremost, involved digging beneath the veneer of liberal equality that often coats our understanding of who feminists are and what they’re after. This veneer is a translucent coating of apologetics that allows men (and women) to preserve the delusional but forceful notion that men and women are essentially separate, but equal, and that women should just use their equality to compete with men, or else stay out of the way.

Underneath that veneer is a world full of individual and collective practices and structures that militate against feminisms (there are many ways to be a feminist) and their shared goal of fully emancipating the gender that, by and large, still suffers disproportionately, both domestically and globally. On balance, women are disadvantaged vis-à-vis men economically (through the wage gap, the double workday, and lower rates of promotion), politically (through lower rates of representation and the frequent denial of basic human rights), and even physically (as targets of violence, including domestic assault and human trafficking).

If true equality is to be achieved between men and women, men are going to have to enlist as feminists. This begins with men realizing that being a “man” is complicated, variable, and has nothing to do with sports, worn jokes, and preserving unjust and unearned privilege. It proceeds when men realize that they are bound up in those social structures that obscure, oppress, and abuse many women. But the pursuit of equality never ends. Instead it remains active as a constant and critical reflection about how we engage with one another as gendered human beings and action toward remedies.

Of course, there’s something comforting about the idea that some things are reserved for just us guys — even if these are things that many of us don’t do, anyway: hunting, roofing, shooting whisky until the room starts spinning and the fists start flying. There’s also something enticing about the bottom-shelf jokes and tropes, within such easy reach, pervading barroom conversations and sitcoms with laugh tracks. These give us a false but reassuring sense of order: to the gender, to one’s self-esteem, to the world.

Photos by Ramlath Kavil

But these comforts come at far too high a cost to both men and women. The sexist ideas, words, and practices mobilized by some men and bolstered by eons of encoding into both the visible and hidden structures of our society, don’t just do harm to women.

They also turn men into stunted stereotypes who, like lemmings marching along a path laid out by years of misogyny and ignorance, will eventually parade right off the edge of the cliff. These ideas, words, and practices make us lazy, predictable, and pathetic, protected by delusions of our own superiority that make us, in at least one sense, intellectual and moral toddlers.

I have an alternative approach. It’s my approach, and others exist. But my way of being a feminist includes choosing carefully the words I use, avoiding offensive gendered terminology; it relies upon the sometimes-uncomfortable task of calling out those who perpetuate gendered stereotypes in their words and deeds; it begs for the public advancement of alternative ways of shaping social and personal gender relations; and it absolutely requires constant attention to the way I think about and treat women, so that through practice I am able to re-write the narrative implanted in me through social structures hostile to true gender parity. It takes what the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche called “long practice and daily work at it.”

Someday we will pass the Event Horizon of gender equality, that point beyond which those who celebrate gender diversity and parity, those who refuse to participate in structures of gender domination, will have moved permanently beyond their intellectual and moral ancestors. Men today can choose to be a part of this movement or they can continue to hide behind false and overwrought notions of either liberal equality or gender exceptionalism.

However, in choosing the latter path they will prolong the life of moribund — but still harmful — relations that keep so many women underemployed, under-represented, and in violent relationships, and that arrest the development of the male gender.

The latter choice is the wrong one. It’s time for all men to be feminists.

David Moscrop is a PhD student at the University of British Columbia and founding editor of Thought Out Loud. This article was originally published in The Ottawa Citizen. Our special thanks to the author and the editor for sharing this story with us.

 

Pioneering Feminist Poet and Activist Adrienne Rich is No More

Rich

Veteran feminist poet and political activist Adrienne Rich has passed away at her home in Santa Cruz, United States

By Special Correspondent

Adrienne Rich, whose writings influenced a generation of feminist, gay rights and anti-war activists is no more. Rich died on Tuesday at her home in the US from rheumatoid arthritis complications. She was 82.

Adrienne Rich, like so many, was profoundly changed by the 1960s. She is best known for her poems and essays that attacked what she considered to be the “myths” of the American Dream. Through her writing, Rich explored topics such as women’s rights, racism, sexuality, economic justice and brutalities of war.

She is considered to be one of the few poets who can deal with political issues in her poems without letting them degenerate into social realism.

Unlike most American writers, Rich believed art and politics not only could co-exist, but must co-exist. She considered herself a socialist because “socialism represents moral value — the dignity and human rights of all citizens”.

Born in Baltimore in 1929, Rich was encouraged by her Jewish father to write poetry at an early age. She was married to economist Alfred Conrad in 1953 and they had three sons. Rich came out of the closet after leaving her husband and met her lifelong partner, the writer Michelle Cliff, in 1976. She used her experiences as a mother to write “Of Woman Born: Motherhood as Experience and Institution,” her groundbreaking feminist critique of pregnancy, childbirth and motherhood, published in 1976.

Rich has published more than a dozen volumes of poetry and five collections of nonfiction. She gained national prominence with her third poetry collection, “Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law,” in 1963. Citing the title poem, University of Maryland professor Rudd Fleming wrote in The Washington Post that Rich “proves poetically how hard it is to be a woman — a member of the second sex.”

Her political poems included “The Burning of Paper Instead of Children,” an indictment of the Vietnam War and the damage done and a cry for language itself: “The typewriter is overheated, my mouth is burning. I cannot touch you and this is the oppressor’s language.”

One of her best-known poems, “Living in Sin,” tells of a woman’s disappointment between what she imagined love would be — “no dust upon the furniture of love” — and the dull reality, the man “with a yawn/sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard/declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror/rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes”.

She won many top literary awards but when then-President Clinton awarded the National Medal of Arts in 1997, Rich refused to accept it, citing the administration’s “cynical politics.” “The radical disparities of wealth and power in America are widening at a devastating rate,” she wrote to the administration. “A president cannot meaningfully honor certain token artists while the people at large are so dishonored.”

In 2003, Rich and other poets refused to attend a White House symposium on poetry to protest to U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.

She taught widely, including at Columbia, Brandeis, Rutgers, Cornell and Stanford.

Related reading here and here

 

Recession in UK: Women bear the burden

recession

Recession has hit women the hardest in UK. They face increased unemployment, reduced income and cuts in welfare and social services and are forced to take up more of the care burden

By Geetanjali Gangoli

While the recession hits everyone in different ways, there appears little doubt that in many western societies, it has hit women the hardest. A recent report by Fawcett Society (2011) indicates that women in the United Kingdom (UK) have experienced financial and social hardship as a result of the recession, and the financial cuts to public services and welfare in recent months.

Even before the recession, things were difficult for many women in the UK. Fewer women were employed than men, and more women worked part time than men did. A study in 2007 also indicated that having children has an impact on women taking up full-time positions, with 38 percent of women with dependent children working part-time, compared with only 4 percent of men with dependent children. Further, women were more likely to be paid substantially less than men, especially in the private sector, where the difference between the salaries of men and women has been as high as 60 percent.

Compared to most other countries in the European Union (EU), UK has also not done well in the areas of maternity benefits and child benefits. A study conducted by Mercer Human Resource Consulting in early 2003 reported that the UK, Greece and Luxembourg are the countries with the lowest level of statutory maternity pay in the European Union. Some improvements to maternity benefits were made in April 2003, but women in the UK continue to get less maternity rights than women in many other countries in the EU.

Following recent cuts in welfare introduced by the Conservative-Liberal Democratic coalition, things are getting even bleaker for women in the UK. The February 2011 Labour Market Statistics reveal that twice as many women have lost their jobs in the final quarter of 2011, and women’s unemployment has increased by 18 percent since the start of the recession, while men’s unemployment rose only by 1 percent in the same period.

This follows a global trend, where during recession or periods of economic instability, women are more likely to be laid off work, as their labour is seen as auxiliary, and their primary role is seen as caregivers. In the UK, this has also to do with women’s labour being predominantly clustered in the public sector and this is expected to worsen as Anna Bird, Acting Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society predicts that women will make up two thirds of the estimated 7,00,000 public sector workers expected to lose their jobs by 2015. Further, the impact of job losses is felt even more disproportionately on minority women in the UK.

Women have also started experiencing the impact of spending cuts and welfare benefits. A survey of over 1,000 by UK parenting website Netmums (2011) revealed that 86 percent of respondents have cut spending on themselves. Thirty-eight percent of women say things are so desperate they are struggling to get by. Six in ten have even cut down on food shopping, and some women have started skipping meals so that there is enough food for their children. Single mothers are also hit hard by recent welfare cuts, such as by axing a grant to support lone parents with the costs of training, and this is exacerbated by the high costs of child care in the UK, which makes it economically non viable for single mothers on a low salary to work.

There is some evidence that the welfare cuts have already reduced women’s access to community based services that can be critical for them in times of crisis. Many small community based organizations providing key services in the area of violence against women, including services for minority women and survivors of sexual violence are heavily dependent on funds from local authorities, and some of these services have been hit particularly hard (Walby and Towers, 2012). In real terms, it means that women have reduced access to refuge in case of domestic abuse or confidential helplines in cases of sexual violence. Further, substantial cuts have been announced to legal aid — more than half of legal aid beneficiaries have been women, including in cases of child contact, welfare benefits and immigration.

With more unemployment, reduced family income, fewer welfare provisions and reduced access to community based services women will be forced to sacrifice not just their careers but also their interests for the sake of their families and children and take up more of the care burden.

 

Global Health and Feminism

woman and child

Feminism might be a taboo word within academic medicine, but it clearly has made an important contribution to global health

By Richard Smith

The Lancet, the leading journal for global health, has mentioned feminism only twice in its 189 years. The BMJ -British Medical Journal- hasn’t mentioned it at all. Does it indicate that feminism has had no impact on global health? All three speakers at a meeting at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in January this year, strongly disagreed.

Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet and a man, told us that the Lancet had mentioned feminism only twice, and Tony Delamothe, deputy editor of the BMJ and another man, told me that the BMJ had no entries. I, a third man, didn’t check, but Jane Smith, another deputy editor of the BMJ and a woman, did. She found that the BMJ has had 102 mentions of “feminism” and 302 mentions of “feminist” and the Lancet has 23 mentions mentions of “feminism” but none of “feminist.” Thank God for women.

One reason that the journals might not have mentioned it is because “feminism” is a taboo word within academic medicine, said Richard Horton, editor of the Lancet. Lori Heise, one of the speakers and a senior lecturer at the London School, said how she had to think carefully before “coming out” as a feminist.

Feminism can mean many things, said Andrea Cornwall from Sussex University, but all definitions coalesce around inequalities and inequities. It is a political practice concerned with reducing those inequalities and inequities—and such a programme is central to global health.

Cornwall quoted the famous book Our Bodies, Ourselves as one of the best examples of how feminism has been important within global health. Described by the New York Times as a “feminist classic,” Our Bodies, Ourselves was published in 1971 and grew out of a pamphlet Women and Their Bodies written by 12 Boston feminists. The booklet sold 250000 copies without advertising, and the book is now in its 9th edition with 26 foreign editions. The book had a specific political purpose and was the first to insist that health is not a matter just for experts, but for women and men too.

One of the great feminist battles has been the fight to get rid of unsafe abortion. The battle was won in Britain in 1967 but continues in much of the world—and is in constant danger of being rolled back. Feminists have also led on the right for women to control their fertility and on humanising childbirth. Cornwall said that despite some female politicians, like Sarah Palin having reactionary views, the increase in the proportion of women in legislatures is associated with progressive reproductive legislation.

Heise made the case for feminism’s importance in global health by telling three stories. The first concerned a WHO report on violence and health from 1993 that in its first iteration said nothing about violence against women “in the personal sphere.” Feminists, including Heise herself, convinced WHO of the importance of domestic violence and not only ensured that it was included in the report but also changed the paradigm for thinking about violence and health.

Her second story was about the movement for population growth in the 1950s and 60s. Although driven by concern for the environment, the movement had a “tinge of eugenics” and led to unacceptable practices like forced sterilisation. Feminists broadened the debate by pointing out that overconsumption was as important as overpopulation in damaging the environment, and they made it clear that flooding the world with contraceptives would not, on its own, reduce population growth. It was essential to address issues like empowering women and educating girls. Ultimately, concern about population growth was replaced by concern for human rights and sexual health, a victory for feminists.

A third achievement of feminism described by Heise has been the inclusion of women in clinical trials. In the 80s almost all trials included only men—because triallists, particularly those from pharmaceutical companies, were scared of the liability implications of including any women who could possibly become pregnant. Because of feminist pressure this has now changed, but, said Heise, pregnant women are the “real dispossessed.” Prescribing in pregnancy is rarely based on good evidence. Somebody in the audience asked how this might be changed, and Heise answered that it needed legislation to require the inclusion of pregnant women in trials and a fund to avoid individual companies having to pay out for problems.

Despite the desire to include women in clinical trials, one of the recurrent themes of the meeting was a distaste for randomised trials. Nobody put it this way, but I was left with the feeling that randomised trials are male inventions—ignoring subtlety and nuance and reducing people to statistical objects. All the speakers made clear that they were not against randomised trials, but we were left with the impression—almost certainly correct—that the world would be a better place with fewer trials and greater use of other research methods, particularly participatory research.

Richard Smith was the editor of the BMJ until 2004 and is the Director of the United Health Group’s chronic disease initiative. This article was originally published on BMJ blog.

Union Budget 2012-2013: A gender audit

women at factory

A gender audit of the current budget, to assess whether gender commitments have been converted into budgetary commitments by the Government of India, reveals more shortcomings than successes.

By Vibhuti Patel

The Government of India introduced gender budgeting in 2004 to ensure that it’s policies and programmes actually receive the finances to make these commitments effective.

In the Union Budget 2012-13, Ministry of Women and Child Development has been allotted Rs.18500 crore (2012-13 Budget Estimate), an increase of 15 percent at current prices as compared to previous year’s Revised Estimate of  Rs.16100crore (2011-12).

However, the total magnitude of the Gender Budget (outlays earmarked for women) had declined from 6.1 percent (2010-11 Budget Estimate) to 5.8 percent (2011-12 Revised Estimate). Though, there is a marginal increase of 0.1 percent in 2012-13 over the previous year.

The number of Union Government ministries/departments reporting in the Gender Budgeting Statement (a statement about budgetary allocations that has a bearing on women) has remained stagnant at 33 for the sixth consecutive year. Except for the Ministry of New and Renewable Energy, there is no new addition.

Inadequate finance

The Steering Committee on Women’s Agency and Empowerment for the 12th Plan had suggested several important interventions to address the gender based disadvantages experienced by girls and young and elderly women. For most of the existing schemes, the outlays are extremely low as compared to those proposed by this Committee. Despite 2012-13 being the first year of 12th Five Year Plan, allocations for schemes such as STEP, Hostels for Working Women and Priyadarshini, have registered only a marginal increase over the previous year.

The Ministry of Women and Child Development had launched the helpline for women, developed distance learning programme on women’s rights, and implemented Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, provided relief to and rehabilitation of rape victims. However the amount allocated for these schemes is grossly inadequate. There is also no financial allocation for Swayamsidha Phase II, for self-employed women and women entrepreneurs, which was considered by the 11th Plan as the main agency for women’s empowerment.

Most of the government flagship schemes continue to rely on underpaid labour of women. In the Budget 2012-13, while the role of Accredited Social Health Activist (ASHAs) – the backbone of the National Rural Health Mission (NRHM) has been enlarged, there is no mention by the Finance Minister to regularise their services. ASHAs will continue to get performance based remuneration on the targets they are able to fulfill.

The only saving grace in this budget is the effort by the Department of Science and Technology (DST), traditionally perceived as a male bastion. DST has launched several missions targeting women in order to promote women’s participation in scientific and technical fields,and to enhance women’s capabilities and choices. The new scheme of DST, ‘Disha’ in the Union budget 2012-13 is envisaged to facilitate the mobility of women scientists. There is an urgent need to replicate such efforts by other ministries based on practical and strategic gender needs of girls and women.

What Needs to be Done

For the past five years women’s groups have been demanding that the government review the format of the Gender Budgeting Statement but no progress has been made in this direction. Moreover the current budget has not addressed the long standing demands of women’s groups and gender economists with respect to budgetary allocation for;

Implementation of Pre Conception and Pre Natal Diagnostics Techniques (PCPNDT) Act. To halt the declining child sex ratio by judicious implementation of PCPNDT Act, 2002 so as to ensure stringent punishment to doctors and laboratory owners for abuse of sex determination and sex selection technologies

Implementation of Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, 2005.

Photos by Ramlath Kavil

Complete utilization of the 30% girls’ component within Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and special budgetary allocation for public education and increased publicity drive in print and audio visual media.

Special financial allocation must be made for the salary of crèche teacher and helper in schools. In all schools, one room should be converted into crèche so that poor girls, who have younger siblings to look after, can leave them in the crèche and attend the classes. This would enhance retention rate of girls in the school.

Enhanced budgetary allocation for the Public Distribution System (PDS) in order to strengthen the provision of good quality of food grains, oil and soap to ensure better nutritional standards. Funds for community based mental health intervention must be promoted.

Enhanced funds for protection and rehabilitation of child workers and children in difficult circumstances such as street children, trafficked children. NGOs and community groups should be encouraged to provide ward wise update on status and data base on child labour in Mumbai.

Social security and social protection for women in the informal sector, Small Scale Industries, FTZs, EPZs, SEZs Construction workers, rag pickers, scavengers, food-processing industries, sweat shops and garment industry. Budgetary allocation for implementation of Unorganized Sector Social Security and Social Protection Act, 2008 is imperative.

Vocational Training Institutions must be provided to impart women skills in non-conventional areas so that they can get employment as taxi/bus drivers, plumbers, fitters, turners, electricians, carpenters, cobblers, so on and so forth.

Ensure access to information, finance, training and marketing for women entrepreneurs, SHGs, vendors and self employed women.  Women entrepreneurs and traders must be given priority while allotting shops by public sector corporations and local government.

Budget for Crèche facilities, working women’s hostels and short stay homes must be enhanced many folds.

For making India  disabled friendly a detailed data base must be prepared on types of disability and number of people who are physically challenged.

Construct night shelters with toilets and baths for homeless women and girls with the help of centrally sponsored schemes as well as state financial allocation.

Community based half way homes, working women’s hostels and multi-purpose activity center to meet variety of needs of women and girls.  Half way homes and counselling centers must be created to address problems faced by elderly women and women who are physically challenged.

Support in the area of education, health; housing and skill development must be provided  to women headed households (FHHs)

Generate Gender Disaggregated Data to address strategic gender needs and practical gender needs of women in Mumbai.

Affirmative action to protect interests of women in difficult circumstances such as child prostitutes, homeless women, street girls, abducted girls, child brides, women suffering from HIV/AIDS, single women and elderly women.

Safe transport in terms of women special buses and local trains

Well maintained Public toilets for women.

Informal Sector

Considering women’s central role to the care economy, and the large numbers of women in unpaid work, policies need to focus on social services to support women’s care roles (old age, child care) and adequate resource allocations need to be made to support them.

Rural Sector

In the light of the present agrarian crisis and food insecurity the vulnerability of women farmers in particular needs attention. Women’s access to land needs to be strengthened immediately considering the huge gender disparities in land ownership patterns. This could be done by;

Women’s access to land needs to be strengthened

(a) Improving women’s claims to family land (b) Improving access to public land by ensuring that all land transfers for poverty alleviation, resettlement schemes, etc., recognize women’s claims (c) Improving women’s access to land via market through provision of subsidized credit to poor and by encouraging group formation for land purchase or lease by poor women.

Conclusion

Women’s rights organizations in India have demanded that the Government should ensure adequate gender budgeting in all ministries and departments, enact a comprehensive Food Security Bill, ensure universal PDS as a core component, allocate 6% of GDP for Health, allocate 6% of GDP for Education, make budgetary allocation to cover special schemes for women workers, increase allocation for women farmers, enhance resource allocation for tribal, dalit, and minority women and increase budgetary support for schemes to assist women-headed households and differently abled women.

In the absence of sex disaggregated data, evaluation of schemes through a gender lens or any effort at strengthening gender dimensions of existing schemes poses a big question. So, provision of such data should be prioritized.

The target of 30% gender allocations under all ministries has not yet been achieved. This must be implemented immediately. There is a crying need for a gender audit and gender outcome appraisal of all ministries and departments at the central and state levels. Very often, resource allocations made under gender budgeting do not reach in time and they remain unspent. There should be proper monitoring and supervision of the allocated funds with greater transparency and accountability at all levels.

Vibhuti Patel is active in the women’s movement in India since 1972 and currently teaching at SNDT women’s University, Mumbai.

Gujarat: My fractured thoughts and ponderings

Gujarat genocide

Ten years after the Gujarat Genocide, Muslim women and girls live with a fatalistic acceptance of life as internal refugees, facing a future of inequality and lesser freedom

By Sheba George

Coming from Gujarat, for some of us, working here pre and post the 2002 Genocide has instinctively made us learn to look at issues from not just women’s eyes but also from the lens of what Muslims have come to accept in Gujarat and what they think and perceive.

The post Genocide phase in Gujarat, which always had and will have bearing for the rest of the country, leads us to a time when propaganda says that some (or more) Muslims will go with the BJP, even if it is for survival . This is even when the state, in a bid of promoting so-called equal treatment, overturned the pre-matriculate scholarship support meant for Muslim girls under the center’s 15 pt program. This was the only program worth mentioning in the 15pt program announced after the Sachar Committee Report.

While we battle Amniocentesis, violence and rape in our unsafe homes, cities and towns, there is a silent siege of sorts that continues vis-a-vis minorities. Time and again, the mass violence against women in the name of caste, religion and regions in conflict, rears its ugly head and the shadow does not leave the subconscious of the targeted community, within Gujarat and even in other states. It defines the limits of progress for many Muslim women, where in this case we have also seen dynamic leadership and versatility among Muslim women.

Writing about 2002 has been a Herculean task. We need to comprehend the politics of identity that ravage the gains that women make. Many people other than Muslims too have suffered displacement and hate crimes, but I write about what I am witnessing and experiencing.

We hold memories of the collective violence, through what we saw, what we heard and what we continue to live with. After 28 years of grassroots activism in Gujarat and battling communalism, one would imagine that many barriers would have been broken and walls scaled in strengthening bonds between women beyond religion, caste and class divides. The Gujarat Holocaust has shown us otherwise.

Through the 90s, we watched with trepidation the marriage between religion and politics with the rise of the BJP-RSS-Bajrang Dal combine, with the liberal mainstream currents of our society saying “what’s wrong with the BJP?”, “they are so disciplined”, “they have a grassroots cadre”, “where is the Congress?!”

Even the communal violence after the shilanyas and demolition of the Babri Masjid in Ayodhya did not ring enough warning bells to resist the high-pitched communal rhetoric that clouded the skies of the country, with minorities being either victims of hate crime or witnessing each other’s violations.

Desecration of religious places was commonplace. Christians were being targeted in Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Karnataka. The rationale of the fundamentalists is that Indians are by default Hindus and those who had strayed to other religions had to understand their place. Christians were always suspected of conversions. Hence, purification programmes for return to the Hindu fold happened regularly in tribal belts.

All these social and political churnings was something that social and women’s movements were just about grappling with. In fact many of the women trained in Panchayat Raj had propensity towards the BJP. All these events led to the worst genocide in modern India.. Gujarat had witnessed a similar massacre in 1969 with Ahmedabad as epicenter and even then Muslim women had been stripped and chased.

But this is about the holocaust of 2002 in Gujarat that engulfed areas with predominant Muslim populations, who had to pay the price for the burning of 2 train bogeys at Godhra on 27th Feb. 2002 that killed 58 women, children and men. Ahmedabad and the rest of Gujarat looked normal then and look normal now. It’s only “them “, the victims, survivors and witnesses and “us”, the human rights organizations, the media and those whose conscience are stricken by the sheer depravity of violence and decimation of a people stigmatized by their religious identity who remember.

The well-chronicled testimonies, statements, reports lie before the courts of Gujarat and the Supreme Court of India. The battle for truth and justice go on. The petitions for Relief , Rehabilition  and Compensation have brought respite and a sense of reparation  for some while many still languish in the wretched colonies scattered across the districts of Gujarat.

What has happened to the efforts of the affected women and young girls, who were banished to the shadows of ignominy, to restore normalcy to their lives? We know of some women and girls being either burnt, mutilated  or raped. In some cases, husbands and families helped them put their lives back on track. We know of women who did not file cases against their persecutors fearing public shame, protracted legal battles and doubting their ability to provide evidence to prove that they were victims of organized, mass sexual violence.

Photo Courtesy: SAHR WARU

So-called ‘Normal’ life has been restored through marriage, family and community and a supportive communal silence exists in shared knowledge of the negations experienced as women, as markers of humiliation perpetrated against a community. Stories of the bestiality are a part of public memory, the communal violence of 1969 where 3000 were said to be killed and women stripped and chased are still recalled in Muslim homes. Then also justice was absent.

Today Muslim women and girls who are internally displaced due to this new holocaust of 2002, who stay in these far-flung colonies, live in fatalistic acceptance that their growth and future will be obstructed by a glass ceiling. Their education, their mobility, their enjoyment of equal opportunities has been curtailed for their security. Women are victims of stunted growth in a community of Muslim men and youth who themselves are second class citizens.

Education till 7th or 8th for girls and boys may then be end of the road for these Muslims communities living beyond the edge. They may choose not to go back to their homes to ensure their security. In the battle for survival they will be removed from the economy growth and social integration of their generation next and forgo their right to be part of an integrated mainstream in the rural or urban society (that claims be plural and hold no bias against class, caste and gender).

What really has changed? Does truth see the light of day, do we learn from history or we just delve into history to either justify retribution or make our peace to be able to exist. If historically Muslim women have been embattled within it is also because they are embattled from external threats to their dignity every several years, they have had to time and again retreat to safety of confirming. In a world where women are reaching for the sky, the ordinary Muslim woman is not far behind, she also works at the petrol pump, the call center and the shopping mall even if she comes from the ghettos in cities like her non-Muslim counterpart and if she is a young woman her mobility and liberty is also restricted like her non-Muslim counterpart, but to battle for even these opportunities is out of reach for now in distant colonies where the survivors of the 2002 violence live.

Where is restorative justice? Wrongs don’t get set right. The victim, the survivor has to reconcile to reality and accept lesser equality, lesser freedom, has to submit to living with the limits that are drawn for a community that lives within a mentality of siege as internal refugees.

Written in memory of the loss of lives, property, livestock and the sexual violence against women, after a troubled visit to Rehmatinagar Colony where internally displaced persons from Ghodasar, Mehamdabad and Kheda district reside.

Sheba George is an activist based in Ahmedabad and the founder of SAHR WARU: Women’s Action and Resource unit.

My Gurgaon…I Care, I swear I do

Millennium City Gorgoan

How do the authorities react to growing violence against women in India’s millennium city, Gurgaon? One ‘simple’ solution from the city’s Deputy Commissioner is to ban women from working after 8 pm

By Kalyani Menon-Sen

I have lived in Gurgaon for the last seven years. During this time, I have been trying my best to achieve the sublime state of satisfaction and pride that I am convinced is the proper state of mind for a denizen of this Millennium City. It hasn’t been easy – the truth is that there are some bits and pieces that don’t quite fit the global template.

I’m not sure if these are remnants of some prehistoric culture that existed in these parts before the DLF era, or if they’re just the straggly unfinished edges of a work-in-progress that will be taken care of in due course by the people in charge. Or maybe they’re the bits that went wrong and are too far gone to be repaired – in which case they will just have to be trimmed off ruthlessly when the picture is framed for a global audience.

Whatever they are, I’m happy to report that I’m getting the hang of dealing with them. For instance, when I’m driving, I keep my gaze firmly nailed to the middle distance. The reflections of sunlight off the blue glass walls of the office buildings, the malls that are lighted up even in the daytime, the billboards with their soft-focus scenes of life in Nirvana County and Aralia Heights – these help to take one’s mind off the bumps and potholes in the road, the broken pavements, the uncleared garbage, the broken beer bottles, the unhappy-looking trees festooned with dead plastic bags, the silent old people begging at the traffic lights, the skeletal cows and mangy dogs…. I’m sure that if I can just keep practising not looking at them, they will retreat to their proper locations at the edges of my consciousness.

Things have been a little harder these last few weeks, though. I haven’t yet been able to develop the correct attitude to the reports of violence against women that pop up every now and then on the newscape. I know I should not be brooding about them – they are mere pimples, minor infections of the urban epithelium that merit no more than a swipe of concealer for a couple of days. Treat them with the contempt they deserve and they will slink away. It seems to work for lots of people in My Gurgaon so there’s no reason why it shouldn’t work for me.

I’m applying this approach to our latest rape – sorry, make that “alleged rape”. The victim was not really the kind of girl we would like to see in My Gurgaon, was she – she wasn’t even really a Gurgaon girl, lived in Badarpur of all places. She worked in a Pub in the Sahara Mall, and the men who she claims first abducted and then raped her had been drinking in the same bar. A liar too, it seems – she said she worked in the pub, but the owners say she was just a freelance escort for hire – the police are checking the CCTV footage from the pub to find out what she was doing there.

Anyway, there she was outside the Sahara Mall, calling a cab at 2.30 am. She says she was raped in a mansion in DLF but she couldn’t identify the house for the police. Strange, isn’t it – those DLF mansions are absolutely unforgettable. So she got a medical test and it confirmed rape, but that’s neither here nor there – these government hospitals will confirm anything for a fee. They should have taken her to Medanta Medicity if they were serious about it.

Activists protest outside Sahara Mall, Photo courtesy: Must Bol

And even if her story is true and she did get raped, we know who did it, don’t we – some rustic Haryanvi yobs. Probably the same guys who got beaten up by bouncers after they groped those girls on New Year’s Eve. And have you noticed how all this happens around the Sahara Mall? Must have something to do with having Chakkarpur village right behind it. Some of those oldsters even claim they were diddled out of their land by people like us. Driving their tractors on the expressway and refusing to pay the toll, imagine. And their sons – they think they’re too good to smoke a hukka and drink tharra like their dads, want to go out and get high on vodka in pubs, for heaven’s sakes.

These boys don’t seem to understand that they have not been given the right of entry into Global Gurgaon – they keep trying to sneak into places like malls and pubs. Only in the lower-end malls, mind you – they wouldn’t dare try it with better places where My Gurgaon hangs out. Thank goodness those places have guards from proper security companies. The guards at the Sahara are just village boys themselves. No wonder they can’t keep out the gatecrashers!

Anyway, this particular story is already off the front pages of the papers, knocked out by Mamata Banerjee and the rail budget. Just a little snippet today, somewhere at the back, about a protest some kids did at the mall last night. Probably egged on by one of these feminist NGOs – I hear they’re paid by the US to undermine our GDP, although I’m not sure exactly how this works.

They were shouting something about the Police Commissioner asking working women to stay off the streets after 8 pm. He couldn’t possibly have said that, could he? Bar girls aren’t working women are they? He couldn’t have meant me, could he? I’m a working woman too, but I’m OK – I have my own car and my own driver and I don’t do night shifts and I don’t call for cabs outside the Sahara Mall at 2.30 am. In fact, I have never been inside the Sahara Mall, thanks very much.

I just need to keep on ignoring the stuff at the edges and it will go away. I keep telling myself it will go away. It has to. It’s My Gurgaon – not the ugly bits, of course. I mean the rest. The real Gurgaon, the global one.

Kalyani Menon-Sen is a feminist researcher and activist who lives and works in Gurgaon.

Asexuality: Fighting all odds

Asexuality India

Being an asexual in a sex-saturated culture is to fight the accusations of being abnormal or medically sick. Making asexuality visible is the challenge that online communities like AVEN have risen to

By Kristina Gupta

In many contemporary societies, there is a great deal of pressure on people to be sexual and to engage in sexual activity. Unfortunately, asexuality is often considered as a state of denial even within the progressive circles.

In response, in the past decade, online communities of people who identify as asexuals have been formed – the largest of which is the Asexuality Visibility and Education Network (AVEN) founded in 2001. AVEN defines asexuality as follows: “an asexual person is someone who does not experience sexual attraction.” AVEN has two stated goals: to educate about asexuality and to create a community for asexual people.

As of March 2012, over 34,000 people were registered members of AVEN. According to a recent survey, the majority of AVEN members are under the age of 25. Around 65% of the community identifies as female and around 14% identifies as male. AVEN was started in the United States, and the majority of members are from the U.S., Canada, and Europe. AVEN also has members from all over the world.

There are also a number of affiliated sites in different languages, – there are several Spanish-language sites that connect asexual Spanish speakers and their allies all over the world. Besides these, there are a number of other websites focused on asexuality, including blogs, dating sites, and other community forums.

There is a great deal of diversity within the asexual community, even in terms of sexuality. Asexual individuals also vary in the types of intimate relationships they desire; some may identify as “romantic asexual” if they want romantic relationships that don’t involve sexual activity, while others may identify as “aromantic asexual.” Some romantic asexuals may also adopt an identity label based on the gender of their preferred romantic partner (e.g. some romantic asexuals will identify as hetero-romantic or homo-romantic).

Asexuality rights

Too asexy to be sexual: Photo courtesy AVEN

While many asexual individuals feel that they have been asexual their entire lives, there may be some people who move in and out of the category. In this sense, asexuality is not very different from other sexual identity categories, as some individuals may maintain a stable sexual identity throughout their lives, while others may have more fluid sexual identities.

Asexual individuals who live in a sex-saturated culture may feel stigmatized or marginalized. In the U.S., for example, asexual adults may be perceived as strange or even sick. The handbook of mental disorders used in the United States (the American Psychiatric Association’s (APA) Diagnostic and Statistical Manual or DSM) includes a mental disorder called “hypoactive sexual desire disorder,” which is defined as a persistent lack of interest in sex.

For the asexual community, a lack of interest in sex is not always a medical condition; in some cases, it can be a fulfilling way of being in the world. Some members of AVEN want the APA to revise the definition of hypoactive sexual desire disorder to exclude people who identify as asexual.

In cultures where marriage and children are what is expected (which is still the case, to a certain extent, even in the U.S), some asexual individuals may feel coerced by society to accept the ‘norm’. It could be that some asexual individuals seek refuge in religious institutions where celibacy is accepted or mandated, but there isn’t enough research to support the case.

Stockholm Pride March 2011 - Photo courtesy: AVEN

In some ways, asexuality fits comfortably within the GLBTQ community, as asexuality is another “non-normative” sexuality. However, much of the GLBTQ community (in the U.S. at least) is very sex-focused, so some asexual individuals might not feel comfortable. In recent years, there has been some collaboration between AVEN and different GLBTQ groups; for example, for the last few years, a group of AVEN members has marched in the San Francisco Pride Parade.

As asexuality is a relatively new sexual identity category, there has been little feminist research on it to date. Since the early 1990s, much of western feminism has been very “pro-sex,” which might have prevented early recognition and acceptance of asexuality.

However, currently there are a number of feminist scholars considering the implications of asexuality for feminist theory and practice which include Kristin Scherrer, Karli June Cerankowski and Megan Milks, Ela Przybylo, and Eunjung Kim.

Integrating considerations of asexuality into feminist theory and practice will be very productive.  Considerations of asexuality can lead us to question our “pro-sex biases”; encourage us to question the boundaries between the sexual and the nonsexual and between romance and friendship. It could also lead to us to think about new types of relationships and affinities, and encourage us to think more deeply about the prevalence and meaning of “unwanted sexuality.”

Kristina Gupta is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Emory University. For her dissertation, she is researching the intersections of feminist theory, asexuality, and scientific and medical research on sexual desire

Related reading: ‘We’re married, we just don’t have sex’